Biodiversity, at the level of species and ecosystems, provides an important foundation for many aspects of tourism. Diversity in species, ecosystems and landscapes attracts tourism and promotes economic growth. In turn, a well-managed tourist sector can help reduce threats to key wildlife populations, and can maintain or increase biodiversity, through tourism revenue.
While there is a growing recognition that biological diversity is a global asset of tremendous value to present and future generations, the number of species is being significantly reduced by human activities.
On 22 May, we celebrate the International Day for Biological Diversity (IDB), this year under the theme “Biodiversity and Sustainable Tourism” which has been chosen to coincide with the observance of 2017 by the United Nations as the International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development and can contribute to ongoing initiatives such as the Sustainable Tourism Programme.
The celebration of the IDB under this theme therefore provides an opportunity to raise awareness and action towards the important contribution of sustainable tourism both to economic growth and to the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.
Tourism and biodiversity in relation to wetlands
Despite the fact that they cover a relatively small area of the Earth’s surface compared to some other ecosystems, wetlands are extremely rich in biodiversity and contain some of the most biologically diverse and productive communities in the world.
Wetlands and their wildlife are a key part of the global tourism experience: from visiting the underground karst wetlands in Slovenia’s Skocjan caves, to experiencing the breath-taking sunsets at the Port Launay Ramsar Site in the Seychelles, from watching marine turtles and humpback whales and viewing the splendour of brain corals underwater in Brazil’s Abrolhos Park to trekking and bird watching in the Tsomoriri Ramsar Site at an altitude of 4,600 meters in India, not to mention the unique cultural experience that awaits you in the Kakadu National Park in Australia, home to some of the finest aboriginal art that exists anywhere. The world’s Ramsar Sites and other wetlands have much to offer the adventurous tourist (Source: Ramsar Convention).
Sustainable Tourism requires focus on the sustainable management of wetlands
Wetlands are now becoming attractions for outdoor recreation and the tourism industry, and they also contribute to local development by creating employment for entrepreneurs and local communities. The potential of wetlands to attract tourism can therefore be transformed into an incentive for their protection and restoration.
To recognize the strong links between the conservation and sustainable management of wetlands and sustainable tourism, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) signed in February 2010 a Memorandum of Cooperation with the aim of facilitating the development of project proposals and joint initiatives to reinforce the role of wetlands and their biodiversity for sustainable tourism development.
Tourism in wetlands offers many positive opportunities for local populations which can include economic benefits to national and local economies, support for local livelihoods and local cultures, and, importantly, support for wetland conservation. According to the Ramsar Convention, with half of international tourists traveling to wetlands of all types, but particularly those in coastal areas, the tourism expenditure linked to wetlands can be estimated at around USD 925 billion each year.
In its publication ”Destination Wetlands: Supporting sustainable tourism”, which was launched at the 11th Conference of Parties, July 2012, the Ramsar Secretariat selected 14 case studies (they can be viewed here) to cover different wetland types around the world and to examine the diversity in the scale of tourism, the management processes in place, the many challenges encountered and, wherever possible, the management solutions employed.
In the case of Slovenia, the Škocjan caves (Ramsar Sites) support numerous endemic (crustaceans, cave beetles) and receive between 95,000 and 100,000 visitors each year. Three-quarters of these are international tourists and the remaining one quarter are Slovenian residents. In Tunisia, the Lake Ichkeul is a major stopover point for hundreds of thousands of migrating birds and supports a rich fish fauna. The lake receives around 50,000 visits each year and offers nature trails and guided excursions, a museum, sightseeing in the tented camps and local villages, birdwatching and mountain biking…
Despite these positive aspects, the increase of tourism consumption can pose potential threats and put pressure on wetland ecosystems and their services where resources are already scarce. This includes noise pollution, excessive trampling, and disturbance of wild species, which can reduce the ability of these ecosystems to sustain livelihoods of local populations.
Sustainable tourism and sustainable management of wetlands are closely linked – one leads directly to the other. Well-managed tourism development in and around wetlands ensures that benefits accrue to local communities and contribute to sustainable livelihoods.
Development plans for tourism should be integrated with wetland management plans for biodiversity conservation and be compatible with the objectives for the conservation and wise use of each site.
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